Tag Archives: hiking

Purgatory Chasm State Reservation–Sutton, MA

Mother’s Day can be a wonderful, joyous holiday.  But sometimes, as thankful as you are, it doesn’t live up to expectations.  Perhaps your family is far away, or passed on, or perhaps you have complicated family dynamics.  Sometimes there is just some understandable frustration if the kids decide to pick that day to begin acting up.

Some kids are tree huggers. Bridget is a rock hugger!

Some kids are tree huggers. Bridget is a rock hugger!

Why not embrace this, and spend Mother’s Day in Purgatory?  Purgatory Chasm State Reservation, that is!  The chasm is a bouldery cliff and cave filled mini-canyon in Central Massachusetts.  Unlike many geological phenomenon where they’ve got a pretty good idea about the science of it, there seems to be a lot of controversy about how this one actually formed.

As always, it can be tricky to illustrate the scope of these things with photography, but here are a few tries.  Note some remaining snow in the last one!

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Yes, we brought the littles to a state park filled with such gorgeous but challenging features.  There were a lot of children there and it was not harrowing.  One should be mindful and very serious injuries are not common, but like any outdoor adventure the payoff is worth it if you take precautions.  Climbing among the cool rocks and exploring the caves was refreshing on this 90F Mother’s Day!

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We were careful to follow the marked trail which leads through the bottom of the chasm and then you can loop around the top on either side.  Be prepared to boulder climb through the chasm and then the loops are easy to moderate.  We took another short extension at the end of the chasm that followed a beautiful stream and led to a waterfall.  There are several more miles of trails around the rest of the park as well. (Click to enlarge any thumbnails.)

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They have a lot of regular park programming just like our Middlesex Fells here in town.  We’d just missed a “skull science” presentation.  In-season there is a very reasonable parking fee of five dollar per car but that doesn’t begin until Memorial Day weekend.  So all it cost us was an “ice cream tax” from the friendly truck driver who correctly assumed it would be a great place to plop down for the day, but overall it was a very reasonable Mother’s Day celebration!  There are public bathrooms, a small visitors center (pick up a trail map!), and the entire park is dog-friendly (on leash).

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In honor of all our playground  lovers, I have to mention the park has a pretty nice playground, considering it is pretty much a natural playground itself, arguably moreso than most day hikes.  The landscaping is beautiful and the merry-go-round was especially popular.  There are also many picnic tables with grills. There doesn’t seem to be an extra fee for those, but I imagine they are staked out quickly in peak season!

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At one hour from Boston, Purgatory Chasm is a good getaway when you feel like exploring a bit farther afield but don’t feel like driving all day.  Or do make a day or weekend of it and check out other Worcester area kid-friendly destinations like the Ecotarium, Old Sturbridge Village, and more.  Time to plan those summer adventures!

Dog Mountain–St. Johnsbury, VT

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Remember when we talked about Dogtown, the local place that sounds like a dog park, but isn’t really a dog park–the name has historical origins–but so many dog lovers are drawn in by the name that in some ways it might as well be?

This shows part of the gorgeous mountaintop view.  The view of Moxie isn't so bad, either ;)

This shows part of the gorgeous mountaintop view. The view of Moxie isn’t so bad, either 😉

Well, Dog Mountain, in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, has an equally convoluted description.  It DOES define itself as a dog park.  But it has so much more to offer, from miles of hiking trails, to an art gallery and shop, a chapel, and multiple local festivals–so much so that dozens of non-dog owners visit every year as well, and everyone is equally welcome.

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Folk artist Stephen Huneck (raised in Sudbury, MA) and his wife Gwen were inspired to open the place on their Vermont property in the mid-90s.  The chapel was an integral part of the original idea.  Everyone is welcome to leave a memorial note for their pets, and it is wallpapered in them.  Even the most stoic will find it difficult to leave with dry eyes.  Sadly, the memorial has wider implications now, because after a lifetime struggle with physical and mental illness, Huneck took his own life in 2010 and his wife later followed.  But they’ve left a beautiful legacy, and and supporters claim to want to keep it open and free, and donations (either direct or through the online store) and volunteers are always welcome.

Up the hill...

Up the hill…

...and down.

…and down.

Last week we were on Craig’s family’s annual camping trip and decided to check it out.  The entire property is off leash if you desire, and dogs are allowed in the buildings as well.  Huneck’s sculptures adorn the property, the area is full of wildflowers, and there seem to be water bowls set around.  There is a doggie play structure and a pond where swimming is welcome–if you have four legs.

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The St. Johnsbury area is pretty kid-friendly otherwise, as well.  There is a lot of stuff to do mentioned in our more general write up from last year.  In that article, I neglected to mention it is also near the home base for Circus Smirkus.  Although you don’t have to go to Vermont to see them; they are in Waltham next weekend!

Moxie on the porch of the gallery and shop.

Moxie on the porch of the gallery and shop.

Despite the bittersweet history, this is a happy, peaceful place where community and common interests come together.  We love traveling New England and finding places where art, nature, play, and kid-friendly stuff come together and Dog Mountain is a great one.

 

 

 

 

Danvers-Wenham SwampWalk

“Hey, mommy!  We’re bringing you to the swamp today!”

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Some mothers might hear those words Mother’s Day morning and wonder if the kids were exacting revenge for having been subjected to that celery-parsnip soup last week:  “You want green sludge! We’ll show you green sludge!” At the very least they might wonder if they are allowing one too many screenings of The Princess Bride.

Yeah, I essentially got to view a skunk cabbage bouquet for Mother's Day--but liked it!

Yeah, I essentially got to view a skunk cabbage bouquet for Mother’s Day–but liked it!

But no, my kids know they have a nature geek mommy and that I’d be genuinely pleased and excited to hear those words as part of their Mother’s Day plans for me.

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We’d been wanting to check out the Danvers-Wenham SwampWalk for a while, so we met up there with some friends, who had originally recommended it: Daryl, Emmaline and Gideon.  Sadly their mom Meghan had to miss it due to her obligations as an emergency services pediatrician.  I figured she could rescue the kids who were already sick, while we’d work on her kids’ base immunity by smearing them around in some dirt.

The swampwalk is a loop off the Danvers Rail Trail, and a great place to see some of our local wetland plants and animals.  If you do decide to tour it as part of your bike trip, you’ve got to park the bike at the entrance to the boardwalk section, but they’ve got bike racks set up there.  It’s also accessible by foot, just a short ways in from a parking area.  It’s dog-friendly (on leash, of course), so we brought Moxie and our friends’ dog Scout.

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At about a mile and a quarter, it is a relatively short doable walk for kids, and our 2-year-olds walked the whole thing without struggle. That said, much of it is an elevated boardwalk, so gauge whether you think your little one will be careful when it comes to staying on it when you are deciding between babywearing and toddling.  Because the water is shallow and we’re not in alligator country, risks are probably more  unintended mucky mudbath related than immediate danger related, but you might want to read up on some safety practices first anyway.

Okay, okay, so they did get rests and shoulder rides near the end…

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There are several beaver lodges along the walk, and the 4-year-olds thought they spotted one bobbing along but it was too far away to get a definitive sighting.

We saw probably about a dozen common brown water snakes, both on land and swimming, so if you’ve got ophidiophobia, you might want to sit this one out.  I love snakes, but would not want to go on a goose-ridden hike, so I understand.  They greatly interested the kids, and thankfully did not interest the dogs one bit.  They get quite large and thick; we saw ones at least three feet, and they can get to nearly twice that.  They are non-venemous and avoid you when crossing paths, but are quick to bite when handled, so be cautious that way.

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Check out the big guy in front of that large tuft. Sometimes we look for letter shapes in nature. It’s easy to spot Ys, but Ss can be a bit tougher. This friend helped us with that! Thanks!

It was a gorgeous sunny day, so we were a bit surprised we didn’t see any turtles out basking.  The pre-schoolers are both little chatterboxes, which is sometimes not conducive to spotting wildlife, but is thankfully very conducive to engaging them deeply and educationally on wildlife when we do see it, so it evens out.  But apparently turtles don’t have great hearing, especially when it comes to high pitched noises like 4-year-old voices, so it was probably just co-incidence.  We also didn’t see (or feel) excessive bugs, surprisingly, but we put on our repellant and sunscreen ahead of time just to be safe.

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We DID see a wide variety of birds, and you bird watchers among us will lament that we are not great at identifying them.  I’ll have to be sure to bring along my trusty Audubon Guide to New England next time.

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We were excited to get another great local outdoor destination off our bucket lists. Any requests for a future write-up?

 

 

Splish Splash

Father’s Day snuck up on me this year. Is it a bit earlier than usual? I was thinking it was next weekend.

My husband sometimes requests power tools for special occasions. He even says he wouldn’t mind being surprised. But when he buys them for himself, he spends 7586 hours researching each one first. I’m not completely unknowledgeable, but I could never live up to that! I’m intimidated.

So I asked the girls what they thought we should get him. “A bathing suit!”, Bridget chimed in. I was ready to reject it at hand. But the more I thought about it, it seemed to be a decent idea. His existing one is older (think off-brand Ed Hardy) and we could save him the embarrassment of shorts-cling. We headed off to Marshall’s and while the girls were tempted by Speedos and grandpa-ish ones, we ended up with one that seems to be age and size appropriate.

For any dads saying, “But really? Wh-wh-what about a scroll saw?”. We’ll send him off to the “hardworking store” (as Bridget calls it) with permission to pick out the perfect one, with a plate of his favorite dark chocolate chip cookies in hand.

Craig and Fiona on the beach

Craig and Fiona on the beach

But it’ll be for a sunny day in the hopefully near future! This past week was a bit soggier, but we didn’t let it keep us from the outdoors! Here are some tips for enjoying some outside time in the rain, assuming lightning isn’t a risk:

While you’ll want to be more careful on higher platforms and slippery surfaces in the rain, you can sometimes still get some fun out of playgrounds:

–If the rain is very light, look for a shady playground. The same shade that keeps the sun from beating down too intensely also “catches” some of the rain.

–Some playgrounds have rubberized surfaces with a lot of texture. These can be safer in the rain.

–Some equipment can still be safely used. Tunnels closer to the ground and bouncers are some of the lower risk things.

–Some playgrounds have canopies. Even if they are only partial, if they cover a sandbox, it can keep a rain shower from ruining your sandcastles. On a similar note, many parks and playgrounds have pavilions. If you’ve got cabin fever, bring crafts outside, do them there, and get some fresh air.

–Don’t forget puddle jumping and mud pies!

Don’t let the rain keep you from hiking, either. Some more tips:

–Be careful around rocks and boulders. They are slippery when wet, especially if covered in moss.

–Wool and synthetics will dry out quicker and keep you warmer in the rain compared to cotton. Many outdoor stores sell rain pants to wear with your rain coat. When you’re cold, it is sometimes more difficult to tell if you’re feeling dehydrated, so keep drinking water!

–Take note of differences! Many people think the air smells better in the rain. Once it slows down, mud makes for wonderful animal track spotting. See if you can spot any amphibians or worms, who may be more likely to be out.

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